The Dutch youth film in cinemas could be successful again with good cooperation
With one feature film world premiering in Piazza Grande and two shorts in competition Dutch cinema is very well represented at the upcoming edition of the Locarno Film Festival.
The Dutch youth film has been one of the trademarks of the Dutch film industry for almost two decades now, in Dutch cinemas, on other platforms, at international festivals as well as in international sales. It has been put under considerable pressure over recent years due to changes in the market. To make it successful again, a joint effort is needed from all parties in the film sector. This is one of the conclusions of the ‘See and Be Seen” study into the distribution and screening of Dutch youth films by Peter Bosma and Esther Schmidt.
In the Netherlands itself, Dutch youth films still regularly feature in the top 10 best attended films. The Dutch youth film is also highly regarded around the world. The films are very regularly selected at leading international film festivals, win prizes and are sold to many countries.
The market for the Dutch youth film
There are real concerns, however. The attendance, the box-office takings and the share of the Dutch youth films in the Netherlands have all fallen sharply over recent years. The total attendance of Dutch youth films fell from 2.3 million in 2014 to just 0.9 million in 2018. Takings at the cinema dropped from €16.1 million in 2014 to €7.1 million in 2018 and the share of Dutch youth films in comparison with all Dutch feature films reduced from 30% to 23% during this period. Although the number fluctuates annually, an average of 12 Dutch youth films are released per year. There were 9 in 2018 but both exhibitors and distributors have indicated that they need a larger, more diverse and better spread offering of Dutch youth films with bigger marketing budgets.
The market is increasingly dominated by foreign distributors and exhibitor chains and it is primarily focused on achieving commercial targets. More and more national and international youth films are also being released: from 39 in 2011 to 48 in 2018, with the scale of releases (in terms of prints and campaigns) also increasing every year. Both distributors and exhibitors of Dutch youth films have highlighted that the range of American family films and European youth feature films is an important factor. It seems there is tight competition within exhibitors’ programming and within promotion.
The Dutch youth film is suffering from this reduced visibility, both in terms of promotion in the media and in theatres and in terms of programming in theatres (time slots and number of screenings). This is exacerbated by the poor spread in the release of Dutch youth films over the course of the year, with a high concentration in the autumn.
In addition to the unevenly matched battle that Dutch films are fighting in the cinema due to substantially lower marketing budgets, it is also more difficult and a bigger risk for a distributor to step in if these films are not based on pre-existing ‘property’. Some of the distributors state that they are no longer in a position or prepared to do this.
Recommendations for various parties in the chain
The conditions for cinema distribution and screening of Dutch youth films have become more difficult across the board over recent years. The researchers are providing recommendations for the various parties in the chain to allow them to think together about strategies and more intensive cooperation to reinforce the position of the Dutch youth film again:
- Marketing budgets for Dutch youth films are often insufficient to compete with the foreign commercial offering in terms of publicity. These budgets need to be increased. Dutch youth films also need alternative and innovative marketing and could make much better use of their intrinsic advantages, such as easy to organise interviews, set visits and cast and crew sessions, in order to distinguish themselves from the international offering.
- Through a better spread of Dutch youth films, improvements could be made not just to competition with the international film offering but also to internal competition. On average, more than half of all Dutch youth feature films are released between October and December, while there are few to none during the three summer months.
- For Dutch youth films, film education could contribute to tapping into a new and young audience.
- In addition to the explosive growth of the foreign offering on other platforms, Dutch youth feature films are also being watched in this way more often. To increase the visibility of Dutch youth feature films, it is important for these to be available on multiple platforms, possibly at the same time.
- Distributors and exhibitors could intensify their cooperation when it comes to the offering of high-quality, artistic youth feature films throughout the year. At film theatres in particular, there is a need for a continuous offering throughout the year, not just in the holiday periods.
The study was partly funded by the Netherlands Film Fund. On the basis of this study, since 2019 the Fund has begun charting the box-office performance of the Dutch youth film in its annual Film Facts & Figures of the Netherlands.
Spearheads of the policy
Active stimulation of Dutch children's and family films and international co-productions for this target group forms a spearhead in the Fund’s policy. Even after the cuts in 2013, support from selective funding was retained for around 6 to 7 youth films per year.
A number of initiatives have been shown to be necessary and desirable over recent years. Cinema Junior, the project for original, high-quality Dutch youth films, has provided new impetus at the request of the sector, in cooperation with VPRO, NTR and CoBO. The pilot for youth documentaries, Dok Junior, was started in 2018/2019. This cooperation project with HUMAN, Cinekid and IDFA will be continued over the coming years. Since this year, an increased annual contribution of up to €40,000 will be available per film for distribution, not just to artistic youth films but also to popular children’s films. The Fund has also launched a pilot in cooperation with film theatres for the purchase of high-quality foreign films for children by distributors.
The investments by the Fund in children's and youth film mean that the interest in these has been awakened in countries like Belgium and Germany too; comparable measures are now being introduced there and they are seeking cooperation with the Netherlands. The Film Fund wants to discuss the results of this report with the sector and investigate which measures and agreements are required in addition to the current policy.
Click here to read the English summary, conclusions and recommendations.
Click here to read the Full report (in Dutch) See and be seen, on the distribution and screening of Dutch youth films in the cinema (2011 - 2018).